What Role Will Students Play in This New Digital World? (GS letter Sept 2021)
FES just had its National Conference 2021 (NC21) over the weekend of 24–26 September with an average attendance of 90 students and staff. FES began these conferences in 2008 primarily as missional conferences meant to spur students to participate in the redemptive work of God. NC21 had a digital slant. Everything was done online. The conference theme itself was “Cast Our Net” which focused on challenging students to consider the role they will play in this new digital world and reality. I applaud the planning committee for their courage in discussing this topic which is very current but also uncertain. Throughout the planning process, the struggle was clear for the students that they were not sure how much and how deep the digital world has affected them to begin talking about it. Yet the committee accepted this challenge because they saw the need to minister relevantly in these digital times.
I had the privilege of speaking at their keynote sessions to address one of their greatest struggles: identity in this digital world. My first session established the Christian’s missional identity regardless of whichever world we are present in. We remain as Christians who participate in the redeeming work of God and His world. My second session discussed how to better understand our digital identity today, especially amidst the impact of social media. I highlighted how the past 40 years of Internet trends have redefined the way we publish content, collaborate in work, connect socially, and hope to find clarity in a complex world. Might we also redefine the way our ministries publish content, collaborate and connect, and offer clarity to navigate this complex world? The students then had a Saturday morning of online games to highlight vulnerability issues related to online habits and technological addictions. We also had a Sunday morning of workshops with speakers from IVCF USA, Thir.st, Smol Tok, YMI, and FES Alumni, to offer more specific skills on Communicating the Gospel Online.
This conference has also been high on user generation as one afternoon was given for students to reimagine what the Christian Fellowship (CF) could and should be in these digital times. Ideas ranged from using technology to offer more immersive experiences in the biblical and modern world, to creating an ‘FES University’ for students to connect across CFs and to post thoughts and questions. Ideally, some of these ideas can be carried through, to encourage the creativity and innovation of ministry ideas, but also to help the church of the future be digital-ready. I must note that being digital-ready does not require us to be high-tech, but simply to recognise the signs of the times and to equip ourselves appropriately to remain effective witnesses in this digital world.
On that note, I wish to announce that the Communications Team is looking to change the way that the printed GS Letter is done in 2022. This is because we send Impetus via email every month and Impetus includes the GS Letter but also ministry updates and student stories. I wish to send you a printed Impetus instead, and to do so every two months, to give you a more comprehensive and seasonal coverage of everything that goes on in FES and student ministry. I also wish to reach out to everyone who receives this printed GS Letter to know how you are and how FES can improve its communication with you. Do expect to hear from me in the coming months.
Finally, the IFES World Student Day is happening in October. The students are planning for a day of fellowship and prayer on 16 October. Do pray for the planning committee as they connect with their fellow student movements and learn how God is at work throughout His world, and how to pray with them.